The 2013 winners of the national prize for the best dairy farm are Edward and Olivia Fitzgerald, from Tobernea, Effin, Kilmallock, Co Limerick.

The Fitzgeralds, who supply the milk from their farm to Kerry Agri-business, were presented with the National Dairy Council (NDC) and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards perpetual cup and €5,000 at an awards ceremony today in the RDS by GAA star Bernard Brogan and Tom Hayes TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Edward is the fifth generation of his family to farm at Tobernea. He took over the running of the family farm in 2008, the same year he married Olivia.  His parents, Michael and Catherine, were at the RDS to celebrate the announcement of the national results.

The NDC and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards aim to highlight and reward Irish dairy farming excellence.  The awards were described as ‘the Sam Maguire of Farming’ by farmer and former MEP Alan Gillis from Co Wicklow, when he was awarded the top prize in 1986.

Fourteen farms from eight counties were commemorated at the awards ceremony, including five national category prize winners and three farms which were highly commended by the judges for specific achievements.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Minister Hayes said: “I am delighted to present these awards today and congratulate all of the winners and finalists on being such excellent ambassadors for the dairy farming sector. Their commitment and dedication to producing milk to these high standards reinforces the message that Irish dairy produce is world class. These finalists will have a key role to play as we move towards an era of dairy expansion in Ireland and towards achieving the targets set in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy.”

GAA Dublin star Bernard Brogan congratulated all of the national finalists on their success. “We have terrific dairy farmers here who consistently work hard to achieve and maintain high standards,” he said. “It’s good to highlight dairy excellence through these national awards, which highlight the access Irish consumers have to fresh and nutritious milk and dairy products. Interestingly, from an athlete’s perspective, research is supporting a role for milk and dairy in relation to various aspects of sports nutrition.

Aaron Forde, chairman of the Irish Dairy Board, said: “The NDC and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards are an important acknowledgment of the unique knowledge base and excellent husbandry skills of Irish milk producers. They recognise the hard work of our farmers and their commitment to the rigorous standards and technical criteria necessary to produce top quality milk.  The combination of our natural grassland, sustainable farming practices and the passion and dedication of our farmers and their families means we can bring quality products to markets around the world, with absolute confidence and pride.

“This award programme allows us to show consumers the excellent standards of pasture-based dairy farming we have on our doorstep,” said Jackie Cahill, chair of the National Dairy Council. “The criteria for the NDC and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards examines the technical aspects of milk quality but also assesses quality in a complete context, taking on board all of the components that drive best practice for Irish dairy farmers.  The winners and finalists in this national award are to be commended for their superb work but also provide us with role models for the industry.”

The expert judging panel – Professor Paddy Wall, Associate Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin; Dr Jack Kennedy, dairy editor, Irish Farmers Journal; and Dr David Gleeson, milk quality research, Teagasc – inspected all of the shortlisted farms and scrutinised the technical information and farm management practices supporting each farm’s consistently excellent quality milk standards. They also reviewed aspects of contemporary dairy farming ranging from sustainability and animal welfare to care of the environment.

The judges awarded five national category prizes:

·        David & Kathleen Boland, Cartron’s Glebe, Horseleap, Moate, Co. Westmeath (Aurivo Co-operative Society) – All Year Round Milking National Category Award
·        John & Deirdre McCarthy, Ballymacredmond, Butlerstown, Bandon, Co. Cork (Barryroe Co-op) – Joint National Runners Up – All Year Round Milking Category
·        Ronald & Betty Shorten, Woodfield, Clonakilty, Co. Cork (Lisavaird Co-op) – Joint National Runners Up – All Year Round Milking Category
·        Glenn & Sandra Chapman, Tobergal, Ferns, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (Glanbia Ingredients Ireland) – Joint National Runners Up – Manufacturing Milking Category
·        John & Margaret Mary O’Gorman, Hugginstown, Co. Kilkenny  (Glanbia Ingredients Ireland) – Joint National Runners Up – Manufacturing Milking Category

Three farms were highly commended for specific achievements:

·        Denis & Rose Collins, Letterlickey, Bantry, Co. Cork (Drinagh Co-op) – Highly Commended for Best Quality supplying less than 200,000 litres
·        Conor & Grainne Molony, Clobanna, Thurles, Co. Tipperary (Centenary Thurles Co-op) – Highly Commended for Best Protein
·        Denis & Rioghna O’Gorman, Ballinagoul, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick (Kerry Agribusiness) – Highly Commended for Best SCC

Five national finalists were also commemorated at the awards ceremony:

·        Kevin & Breda Bourke, Ballinlonty, Borrisoleigh, Thurles, Co. Tipperary (Tipperary Co-op)
·        Richard & Nora Fitzgerald, Gortnahown, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork (Dairygold Co-op)
·        Noel & Anne Jennings, Clancoole, Bandon, Co. Cork (Bandon Co-op)
·        Thomas & Mary Mahon, Geeha North, Kinvara, Co. Galway (Arrabawn Co-op
·        Gerard & Frances Murphy, Cahermaculick, Shrule, Co. Mayo (Aurivo Co-operative Society)

Commenting on this year’s finalists on behalf of the judging panel, Dr Gleeson of  Teagasc, said:  “Good results don’t happen by accident and in some cases farmers were achieving top-class milk for the past 10 years. The standard is set by the participants not by the judges. For example nine of the 14 farms shortlisted had TBC less 10,000 and eight had a SCC less than 120,000cells/ml, in fact two had an average SCC under 70,000- serious results. Six of the group had an average protein percentage over 3.5 – very impressive, especially for spring producers.”